5 coffee shops in tucson, az

We are the Smileys, and we’re excited to share our latest adventure in Tucson, Arizona.

Although our trip was a bit different this time as we were pet sitting and couldn’t leave the house for long periods, we made the most of our time exploring Tucson's coffee scene.

Join us as we recount our coffee shops visits, sampling southern Arizona eats, and the unforgettable moments that made our short but sweet Tucson visit unique.


Coffee cups with foam art
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

If you ask my wife why she likes to travel, it's so she can try every iced mocha from around the world. She's gotten a bit pickier over the years, after experiencing “the most amazing iced mocha ever” in India last year.

So, our coffee adventures in Tucson began. I got sick before our trip, so that left Sadie and Sapphire to sample the coffee on our first day. Don't worry, after a few days, I got better – and got to join in on the coffee fun.

Presta Coffee Roasters

the counter at Presta Coffee

Presta has 3 locations in Tucson. We visited the one on 100 South Avenida del Convento and, to say the least, we were not impressed. Sorry, Presta, but we hold roasteries to a high standard and you fell a bit short.

Presta Coffee Sign and counter

Sadie says that they had weak coffee, not very sweet, and barista was snotty. Sapphire says the coffee was weak as well and gave it a 3 out of 10. While we love coffee and trying new places we did not enjoy the coffee or the attitude of the barista.

An iced mocha at Presta Coffee. blurred background.
An iced mocha at Presta Coffee

The establishment itself was nice and clean, even inviting at first glance. However, if you have to endure a bad attitude from the staff while drinking subpar coffee, the seemingly inviting atmosphere quickly turns repulsive.

No matter how well-maintained or aesthetically pleasing a place is, poor service can ruin the entire experience. Has Mexico spoiled us? Do we expect too much? A simple “hello” is sufficient!

The combination of unfriendly service and mediocre coffee makes the visit simply not worth it. The ambiance loses its charm, making it unlikely for anyone to want to return.

It’s crucial for a business to not only maintain a pleasant environment but also ensure that their staff provides excellent service to create a truly enjoyable experience.

Presta Coffee failed us on both points that day.

Eleven Cafe

Eleven Coffee Cafe menu

So since Presta was a failed adventure we move on to Eleven Cafe. It isn't too far away from Presta, and Sadie and Saff really need some good coffee so we can kick off our stay here in Tucson right.

Checking on Yelp and Google we find that Eleven Cafe has some great reviews 4.5 stars on both apps. So we head on over and check them out. We had to get these ladies some coffee, ya'll!

Eleven Coffee mocha Coffee
Eleven Coffee mocha

Sadie returned to the van without a cup in her hands, as did Sapphire. This is not a good sign…

When Sadie got in the van I asked her what was wrong. How was the coffee? I knew either it was really good and she drank it all really fast (that is what she does at home when she makes herself the perfect cup of coffee), or it was really bad.

Sadie's exact words were – and I quote, “that was the worst coffee I have ever had in my life. I have tried hundreds of mochas and this was by far the worst!” My wife can be a bit dramatic at times, especially about her coffee.

Sad Eggs

But Sapphire's face said it all, and if I could have snapped a picture it would say way more than a 1000 words and you would all see exactly how she felt about the taste of the coffee. She agreed with her mom's sentiment.

“Absolutely Awful”

I am sorry to say we did not find good coffee for these two on day 1. I had high hopes for the next day, as there are plenty of other coffee shops in Tucson to experience. We all hoped for a better experience the next day.

Red Captain Coffee Company

Red Captain Coffee Company Logo

Day 2 we woke up and I did a quick Google search to see what other coffee shops were in the area that we could check out. I was optomistic that somewhere in Tucson there was a great coffee shop. Surely at least one place my wife wouldn't hate. 😉

Our first place was actually a coffee truck. We were excited; we love supporting locals as much as we love coffee. We have had great luck with coffee trucks and other food trucks, so our expectations were high, and we were ready for some great coffee.

Red Captain Coffee Company menu
Red Captain Coffee Company cart

Red Captain is in a great location, with a totally #instagramable photo opp (says Saff). This day, I was finally feeling better and ready to have an Americano. There was a line here and that is usually a good sign.

But, as Sadie pointed out, “Starbucks always has a line, too” – and she doesn't approve of their coffee, either lol.

Kevin and Sadie at the wall near Red Captain Coffee

We got to the counter and ordered. The guy taking orders was pleasant and friendly. While we waited, we took the time to get a few pics.

coffee cup near the mural by the red captain coffee truck

The barista came out of the truck to bring us our coffee. This was great customer service, as we usually get called back up to the counter to get our drinks.

Our first sip and ….no we did not like the coffee. I don't know if our tastesbuds are just too used to the strong coffee back home in Mexico or what, but all of the coffee tasted watered down.

We were looking for a coffee place that would wow us. I know we are coffee snobs and picky, but I was sure somewhere in Tucson would not let us down. My wife says I was too optimistic… maybe she was right.

On we go, searching for the perfect cup of coffee in Tucson. Does it exist?

Ren Coffee House

REN Coffeehouse outside the building

Our next stop was Ren CoffeeHouse, another coffee shop with with great reviews on Google – but now we are skeptical about who is leaving the reviews. Who are these people?!

So we head in and the place is fairly crowded. Again, a good sign… maybe. We've been fooled before, so we don't hold our breath. The vibe was nice, which was a plus.

We immediately notice that this coffee shop had the same bags of coffee that we saw on display at the Red Captain's place. Oh no.

What kind of coffee explorers would we be if we didn't at least give it a try?

iced mocha at Ren Coffeehouse
Americano at Ren Coffeehouse

Winner winner chicken dinner (Sadie made me type that)… I liked my Americano. A lot. The taste was smooth, not acidic. The coffee was strong and not bitter. I prefer stronger espresso shots with lots of flavor. Ren's was a hit for me.

They have ample parking and when we visited there was a street fair of somesort going on. We were still able to find a spot to park our van without any problems.

Specials menu at Ren Coffeehouse
The food looked good

Sadie liked her mocha here the best of all the places we have been thus far. She was still not blown away and only drink about a third of it, but it was more palatable than the other places we have tried. I think she is so used to the chocolate we buy for our home that all others tend to pale in comparison.

Ren Coffee House has great ambiance, it seems to be a popular place to come and work as well as socialize. They have a large seating area.

The menu at Ren Coffeehouse
The smoothies menu at Ren Coffeehouse

The staff are friendly and willing to make your drink right if it is not to your liking. They even added more chocolate to Sadie's iced mocha for her, but alas, the cangry dragon was still not slayed.

Cangry: like hangry, but for coffee.


Cartel Roasting Company

iced mocha latte and an americano on the counter at Cartel Roasters

The last stop on our underwhelming tour of the Tucson coffee scene was Cartel Coffee Roasting Company. The experience was a mixed bag for us, so let me share some details.

The staff at Cartel Coffee Roasting Company were incredibly friendly and welcoming. It's always a pleasure to be greeted with a smile and a helpful attitude, especially when you're exploring a new place.

Presta needs to take lessons from them!!!

Cartel Coffee seating area

This coffee shop is definitely geared towards digital nomads, offering ample seating options and a pleasant ambiance that makes it easy to settle in with your laptop.

Coffee at Cartel Roasters

One of the standout features is the ample parking available, which is a huge plus in a busy area like Tucson. Inside, you'll find plenty of spaces to plug in your devices, along with some really comfortable seating that invites you to stay a while.

The atmosphere is laid-back, making it a great spot to get some work done or simply relax with a book.

iced mocha from Cartel Roasters

However, we were somewhat disappointed with the coffee itself. We found it to be not as strong as we typically prefer. While the flavors were nuanced and the quality was undeniable, it just didn't pack the punch we were looking for.

This might be perfect for those who enjoy a lighter brew, but it wasn't quite up to our taste.

I couldn't help but notice the name, Cartel Coffee Roasting Company, which has an ominous ring to it. It certainly stands out and piques curiosity, though it contrasts sharply with the friendly and inviting nature of the place.

seating at Cartel Roasters

Overall, if you're looking for a cozy spot with excellent amenities for work or leisure, Cartel Coffee Roasting Company is worth a visit. Just be aware that if you prefer a strong cup of coffee, it might not fully satisfy your caffeine cravings.

a mural of the word tucson that we saw while driving around.

We do not like giving bad reviews, so as always, take what we have to say with a grain of salt and be sure to try these places for yourself. Wee love coffee but we want to make sure we give our opinion of the places we visit and the attitudes we encounter whether they are good or bad.

It may not be a fair comparison, but Tucson's coffee scene is severely lacking compared to San Diego's, and even the East Valley's (Gilbert/Chandler). We expected decent coffee because of the college being nearby, but by the end of the trip, Sadie was just ready to get back home and make her own coffee.

You've heard of “3 strikes you're out,” but we gave Tucson 5 tries and whew… according to my wife, they did NOT deliver.

Like I said, I enjoyed two of my Americanos. I'm not as picky as she is, and I get to taste the coffee without added milk and syrups, so we get different experiences.

We did get to do some interesting things while we were pet sitting in Tucson even though we failed to find our version of amazing coffee.

Sound off! We want to know what you think and what your opinion is also. If you have stopped by one of these places or you have a favorite place in one of the locations we have traveled to please let us know in the comments.

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